Community members feel their concerns are being unfairly ignored
Minneapolis Public Schools’ redesign plans are stirring up plenty of controversy. Since the Comprehensive District Design (CDD) was released on April 30 this year, school board meetings have drawn impassioned responses from members of the community, families, students and educators. The Tuesday, December 10 meeting was no exception.
Over 30 community members were listed to speak about their concerns. Although a few parents were concerned about how the district was handling students who were exposed to sexual assault, bullying, and being subjected to racial slurs, most comments focused on the proposed changes suggested in the redesign plan that would affect the district’s Spanish and dual immersion schools.
Windom Dual Spanish Immersion School is currently very diverse because of its success in bringing in native Spanish speakers and other students of color to a neighborhood not nearly as diverse as the school. The school has achieved a more racially and economically diverse environment than would likely occur with a traditional school, but some parents, students and staff feel that proposed changes would upset that balance. This is important particularly because of the board’s resolutions to “reduce the number of racially isolated schools,” according to the study and design parameters that support the CDD.
Tabled for the next agenda in January was a discussion about the building that houses Harrison Education Center in North Minneapolis. Although high schools have not yet been addressed in the CDD, changes made at elementary- and middle-school levels could affect their enrollment.
Alexis Mann, a teacher and case manager at Harrison, said during the public forum, “There are students there that have been identified as having special needs that required them to be educated separately than their same-aged peers.” Harrison is currently a level IV special education high school, the only one in the district. It helps students with a need for a higher level of behavioral and emotional support to be successful in their education.
“One of the strategies that have worked well in the past is to provide an accommodation that allows a student to work independently in alternative learning spaces,” said Mann. To avoid conflicts, sometimes the best option is for the student to be left alone in a classroom. She says that recently a family removed their child from Harrison and opted for another school because of concerns directly linked to their space constraints.
Harrison’s enrollment is currently low, with a staff-to-student ratio much lower than most other schools in order to meet the needs of their student population. Under a proposed expansion, programming for special education that is currently provided by three high schools will expand to seven, all with lower-level special educational services than those at Harrison.
Mann advised the board to prepare for the impact of that change by putting adequate resources in place beforehand. Inadequate resources could result in more referrals to Harrison.
“It’s important to note that Harrison is not a setting where the students have the skills to walk away from or avoid conflict, which makes having alternative learning spaces available for our kids critically important.”
Another community member representing Harrison Neighborhood Association (HNA), frustrated that discussion of Harrison was moved to the January agenda, said, “Twenty 20 years ago the Harrison community made a $983,000 investment into the construction of the facility.” HNA is also housed in the building.
“Should MPS decide to follow through with its current plan to take over Harrison’s portion of the building, you will single-handedly be putting back into place the key barriers of equity that the community’s investment was designed to address, which is lack of community space.”
According to a MPS’s communication spokesman, the district will not be renewing HNA’s lease but will use the space to expand the high school, and HNA will be forced to find another space.
“The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board contributed only a third of what the community contributed for the cost of construction of the facility,” said the speaker. “A large institution such as theirs is allowed a permanent place in the building while the community is being asked to leave.”
Although HNA is in support of the concerns over Windom school addressed at the meeting, the speaker noted that the Windom Community Council had been in a similar position in the past. “Our treatment in this process has been very different,” she said.
“Windom Community Council, an organization located in Southwest Minneapolis, that represents a community that is majority-White and affluent, was afforded the opportunity to enter negotiations with the district and ultimately allowed to stay in their space. An organization that is located in North Minneapolis that represents a community that is majority-People of Color and low-income has largely been ignored.
“I think the fact that the resolution that would be addressing Harrison’s ability to stay in the neighborhood, the fact that that was blocked from tonight’s agenda just goes to show how Harrison continues to be ignored in this process.”
Vickie Evans-Nash is a contributing writer and former editor in chief at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.